Developing your career – with choice

By Elisabeth Goodman, 12th January 2021

An article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (Bowles, H.R. & Thomason, B., 2021) caught my eye because it is a topic I am passionate about: helping people to realise that they do have choice in their lives, and how to do something about it.

I remember one of my managers once accusing me of taking an opportunistic approach to my career: influencing the nature of my work based on what was important to me. I was surprised by her remark, as I believe that is absolutely what I should be doing with my life!

Bowles and Thomason (2021) have confirmed that for me – with some very helpful nuances. They also point out that the pandemic that we are living through is a very good time to take stock of what is important to us in our life and in our work, and to negotiate with those around us to make that happen.

Start by developing clarity around your goals

We are often so caught up in just getting through our work, getting through our day, that we can lose track of what’s important to us. We might not even know what our long term goal is, and be happy to just take opportunities as they come along. However, those opportunities might not come along, or we might not be in a mindset to spot them and make the most of them when they do.

One of the things that we ask delegates on RiverRhee’s management courses is to think about what unique contribution is their’s to make at work. What strengths they have, and what value they bring that perhaps no-one else does. What they would love to be able to focus their time on more if they had the choice to do so.

It’s surprising how difficult clarifying your own goals can be. There are a couple of tools that I use with coaching clients that can help.

The career timeline

This works by visualising a timeline of your career, and focusing in on four or five career points that were particularly significant. For each of these, draw out the successes, what you particularly enjoyed about them, what skills or qualities contributed to those. These insights will help you to identify what you might like to continue having in your career, or have more of, going forward.

A coach can also help you to truly associate with each highlight in your career and capture the insights from them.

‘Do more great work’

I have written about Michael Bungay Stanier’s approach for helping people identify how they can do more of what they enjoy in a previous blog (Goodman, 2020a). It’s a lovely reflection tool that can be used on your own, or talked through with a coach.

As Bowles and Thomason (2021) point out: you don’t need to only accept jobs that fit with your long-term goals. There might be jobs you can do that will help you along the way; that are a convenient tactical fit (e.g. to develop skills or experience) whilst keeping the longer-term goal in mind.

Develop and tap into your network

It’s tempting to think that we have to resolve our career decisions on our own and yet, I’ve found from experience, that people can gain great satisfaction from being able to help you.

These people can be friends, family members, existing colleagues (up and down the hierarchy), potential new colleagues and others.

As Bowles and Thomason (2021) suggest, we can and should reach out to others for such things as:

  • facts and data about career moves that we are considering
  • their views about potential blockers and enablers
  • whether or not they might be willing to act as advocates or allies in our negotiations about our careers

Reaching out to people in this way will strengthen your network and relationships for the longer term too.

Have courageous conversations

The approach that Bowles and Thomason (2021) advocate to having conversations with your existing or potential manager, or interviewer is one that seeks a win:win outcome for all parties concerned. Rather than focusing in on the salary, talk about the kind of outcome you would like, how this fits in with your values, strengths, longer term goals. And explore how this would sit within the context of the manager’s, team’s, organisational goals.

This approach reminds me of what Myles Downey also advocates, as reflected in another of my blogs (Goodman, 2020b): the importance of finding a good match between your own values and those of the organisation.

As Bowles and Thomason also say, the nature of your discussion might be about:

  • How you could adjust a request to you to do work that moves away from your longer term goals or ask it to be treated as a temporary / short-term arrangement to meet an immediate organisational need. (The authors call this an ‘asking’ negotiation.)
  • Asking for some special new arrangement that advances your longer term goals (this could include remote working / quality of life arrangements). (These ‘bending’ negotiations might need to be carefully positioned to show how they would benefit the organisation as well as yourself rather than just being a ‘special case’.)
  • Coming up with a significantly new or different role for yourself or other conditions surrounding your work (‘shaping’ negotiations).

Any of these negotiations might be particularly timely given the significant impact that most organisations are currently experiencing with the pandemic. If you can show how your suggested career changes can benefit your place of work, your home life (if negotiating with family members), or the new organisation that you would like to join, then your negotiations will have a greater chance of success.


The start of a new year is always a great opportunity to pause and think about your goals. The ongoing upheaval caused by the pandemic seems to make it doubly such a good time – both for individuals and for the organisations in which we work.

There are some good tools out there to help us think this through. Coaches, friends and family, our own colleagues can help us with that too.

Making choices about and changes to what we are doing takes courage and time, but the benefits would seem to be amply worthwhile.


Bowles, H.R. & Thomason, B. (2021). Negotiating your next job. Focus on your role, responsibilities, an career trajectory, not your salary. Harvard Business Review, January – February, 68 – 75.

Goodman, E. (2020a). The manager as coach: helping others find their goal. Retrieved from

Goodman, E. (2020b). Keeping our personal values in mind in the workplace. Retrieved from

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman, ACC is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to be true to themselves and exercise choice in the workplace by enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

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